There are a lot of products which hit the market then some years later gain national and international fame and popularity. The drone may be one such product, with 2015’s Consumer Electronics Show seeing more drones on display, at lower prices, than ever before.
Two companies current claim dominance in the world of drones. Parrot, and DJI.
The Market today
Parrot released the AR.Drone at CES five years ago – a personal flying toy which had a camera on it and was controlled by your iPhone. Years on, Parrot has evolved that product with the AR.Drone 2.0 now well embedded in the industry and controls now across iOS, Android and on both phones and tablets.
For households, and lovers of fun – the Parrot AR.Drone is the drone of choice.
Then comes a Chinese company called DJI. Their Phantom has been the bees knees of drones for a few years, with a more robust quadcopter capable of more advanced, longer and higher flight.
Paired with a camera, and utilising advanced stabilising techniques, the DJI Phantom can offer an average Joe the capability to shoot video only professionals with helicopters might once have dreamed of.
All the talk
Perhaps the reason drones are on the mind of so many is the controversy they are able to stir up. Through mishaps in aerial photography (photographing a topless backyard sunbaker) to near misses in aviation, there are a lot of question about how this new hobby is regulated.
Rightly so. We have helicopters in our skies, we have commercial aircraft in our skies, and we have people running around on the ground. Those in the sky are at risk from drones flying too high, or near to airports, those on the ground from prying “eyes” or crash risks.
Current Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) rules are quite clear on how and where these drones can be used.
Those rules restrict use in areas within 5km of airports, above 120m in metropolitan areas, over crowded sports fields or beaches, over private homes and in close range of buildings or roads.
The question is, if drones become more and more common, how will these rules be enforced, and what will stop the fools in our community abusing their new toy drones? More on that later.
Drones at CES 2015
The number of drone manufacturers at CES 2015 took me by surprise. I expected to see some, but not this many.
Lets take a look at the drones I’ve come across at CES – some of which you may have seen before, more than likely many you have not.
These guys have one drone on the market right now with a whole range to come. They have no extensive distribution in retail across Australia, but they do have a couple of online outlets selling direct.
Their range will include an FPV (First person view) drone, tricks and games drone and small toy drone also.
AEE Aerial Photography
EFTM understands this little guy (TORUK AP10) will be available in Dick Smith stores in Australia – possibly by the end of January.
Retail price will be under $1000, which, with camera included is a pretty good deal.
It has a separate controller with your smartphone offering vision direct from the drone. It has a claimed flight time of 25 minutes, with a maximum range (and altitude) of 500m.
These guys have devices that are simply huge. They are sleek, aerodynamic and are for the pros. Their focus is on emergency services, firefighting and professional photographers and videographers.
The big player – their Phantom and Phantom 2 are the benchmark for the hobbyist in drone world. They are easy to fly, offer excellent flight control and safety characteristics, and their 3-axis gimbal technology provides outstanding visuals from either a built-in camera or GoPro.
Their new Inspire 1 is the new one to want. It’s too expensive to be considered by hobbyists, but for semi-professionals and independent film-makers this will be an amazing beast to own and fly.
Controlled by your smartphone, there is a bit of the AR.Drone about this one with the tilt and move controls, as well as a bit of the Phantom in the design.
It’s affordable (under $700 US), and lightweight, which comes at the perceived expense of quality – feels a bit cheap if I’m honest.
With a range of colours, it’s likely to be popular with family hobbyists
The selfie drone perhaps? This tiny little fella would be a big hit and could be the one to watch. With a full controller and built-in screen out of the box, its great for the home and outside.
Already available in the US through Hobbyco, expect this one to hit retail fast.
Don’t let that styrofoam fool you, this one is heavy. They’ve got a range of drones for all purposes.
One of their best features is the built-in screen on the controller.
No word on distribution yet into Australia
This thing sadly – no word on Aussie distribution. But great quality. A good fit and finish but standard style features that we’re currently seeing with the Phantom 2.
A company to watch.
Owned in part by an Australian Family, this could be the perfect personal selfie drone and small flight drone.
Using the app, you can tilt to move your phone which controls the Zano. Altitude is controlled with an on-screen control as is rotation.
It feels great quality, and should be sub $500.
These are probably the closest I’ve seen to the DJI Phantom. To the point of imitation.
Available in several colours, even the battery has the level indications like DJI, the USB port is in the same location and all in all it looks like the Phantom’s long-lost brother.
The colours alone will make it sell, as will a price lower than DJI. No word on Aussie distribution.
The AR.Drone remains a common choice with its huge retail channel distribution, and the recent addition of the Jumping Sumo and Rolling spider have added to the brand credibility.
Parrot will need to up the ante on the AR.Drone very soon or risk losing market share in the sub $500 category
This one is perhaps the most interesting.
There is no controller. It takes commands pre flight.
You have modes such as Follow, Fly out, 360 degree, dolly, and more. Choose the mode, press Launch and it’s off.
Using the GPS in the phone it will fulfil your command.
Careful though, it has no sensors to detect objects around it, so make sure you’re in a clear space.
Find them online: http://hexoplus.com
Answering the regulatory question
With so much product about to hit the market the issue of regulation and safety is going to rage this year.
The answer should be simple, but sadly it won’t be.
In my view, craft sold or allowed to fly in Australia should meet strict guidelines. These could include:
- No-Fly Zones – set by GPS into the drone’s system, this would prevent flights (above 3-5 meters so we can still have fun in the backyard) around airports.
- Altitude Restrictions – in metro areas, fix the height to 120m or lower as agreed, take the option away from users
- Proximity Sensors & Notification – as more come out, how do we stop them colliding with each other, and objects – these drones should know when they are within a few meters of a building!
Honestly, this, along with public understanding that drones are here to stay, and even with a camera on them they are hardly spying on you from a great height – should make things peaceful for owners and people who see them in the sky.
Without question though, drones will skyrocket from a $130 million industry in 2015 to a $1 billion dollar industry in 2018 as predicted by the Consumer Electronics Association.
Trev is a Technology Commentator, Dad, Speaker and Rev Head.
He produces and hosts two popular podcasts, EFTM and Two Blokes Talking Tech. He also appears on over 50 radio stations across Australia weekly, and is the resident Tech Expert on Channel 9’s Today Show each day and appears regularly on A Current Affair.
Father of three, he is often found down in his Man Cave.